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Sunday, August 19, 2007

if you were blind, you would have no sin, part 2: a strategic retreat

I have split this post due to its length. Click here for the beginning.

Later, in the comments, Carter said this:

I've always thought atheism was mostly psychological rather than epistemological. This potential correlation only strengthens that opinion, which is why I think it is worth exploring.

Carter has it backwards. First, he is almost certainly wrong about atheism being "psychological rather than epistemological," as even a simple conversation with an atheist should reveal. But if he were right, it would weaken the correlation, not strengthen it. I have trouble with verbal communication because my brain gathers and processes information differently. The difference between the autistic brain and the neurotypical one is epistemological, not psychological. Autism is not a neurosis that can be treated with drugs or therapy.

One thing that was clear from Carter's post is that he had no understanding of autism. Not a clue. Apparently he was more interested in running with the implications of Vox Day's quote, than in doing the necessary research to write an informed post. That's unfortunate, as his bio indicates that he is a staff member of a national Christian ministry. When a prominent Christian is dishonest, it reflects poorly on all Christians.

So I emailed Joe Carter, letting him know my concerns about both the post's tone toward autistic people, and its misinformation about autism, and asking him to prayerfully consider writing a followup post to offer a public apology to people with autism.

Carter wrote a followup post, but it wasn't an apology. He called it a "clarification," although it looked more like a strategic retreat. He offered a technical redefinition of the word "correlation," using so many x's, y's, and z's that he forgot which letter represented what.

To simplify the matter, let's assign the key terms variables: x (atheism), y (autistic tendencies), z (Asperger's syndrome). Obviously, there is a strong correlation between y and z. People with AS, by definition, tend to have autistic tendencies. We could say, for the sake of argument, that for y and z, r = 1. My post implied, however, that there might be a correlation between x (atheism) and z (AS). Again, that was not my intention. The question I wanted to address was whether there was a correlation between x and y. Also, while the variables y and z are correlated, they are not interchangeable.

Got that? So atheism is related to autism but not to AS. I'm not entirely sure, but I think this may have been a clumsy attempt to suggest that atheism should be seen as a new form of autism. I could be wrong about that.

The crux of Carter's new argument, though, is:

Just as some autistic people could be "mind-blind" (as BruceA describes it), I believe it is possible for some atheists to be "God-blind."

Now to my mind, the relationship described there is a "parallel." A "correlation" is when the two phenomena are observed together, in the same individual -- as Carter suggested in his first post.

However, Carter's redefinition of "correlation" appears to be merely a face-saving maneuver, as he backpedals furiously from everything else in his original claim:

My opinion is that if this hypothesis is true (which I consider possible, though not necessarily probable) then people who are wired to be mind-blind (some autistics) and others who are wired to be "God-blind" (some atheists) may share certain tendencies that are commonly associated with or labeled as being on the "autistic spectrum." This does not mean--and I want to strongly emphasize this point--that atheists are autistic or that people with autism are more inclined to be atheists. The only thing the two groups (atheists and autistics) may possibly have in common is certain behavioral characteristics.

What are these behavioral characteristics? Carter never says, beyond suggesting that they are autistic in nature.

But here's the great irony of the matter. The reason Carter brings up the subject at all is to pose these questions:

If this is true and there is a correlation between autism and atheism, what would be the implications? Would it change the apologetic approach that Christians take in dealing with such unbelievers? Should it affect how we respond, knowing that the anti-social behavior is connected with their atheism?

And yet, even a cursory look at the comments on Carter's blog indicate that many of the atheists were turned off, not only by the allegations Carter made, but by the tone of the post, and by the leaps of logic Carter took in trying to tie atheism to autism.

And although Carter expects atheists to be offended by his post, he can't imagine why they should be:

No doubt many atheists will be offended by the suggestion that a psychological dysfunction may be correlated with their belief system. Why I don’t know, since if their belief is true, it is likely that they have no free will (being the product of purely naturalistic forces) and so can't really help it.

If Carter really thinks atheists will respond positively to that, he suffers from a greater mind-blindness than I do. If, on the other hand, he is sincere about reaching out to nonbelievers, then he does need to change his apologetic approach. One good place to start would be to stop looking for ways to blame and belittle atheists for thinking differently.

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At 8/19/2007 12:22 PM, Anonymous John Meunier said...


Thank you for this thoughtful and open discussion about the issue and yourself.

My youngest son (age 3) may fall somewhere on what the specialists are calling "the autism spectrum." We are still coming to understand what that means.

I certainly would be less restrained than you if someone suggested he was somehow outside God's kingdom as a result.

At 9/06/2007 10:57 AM, Blogger truevyne said...

Carter has not made a friend in me. Sorry you didn't get an apology. Clarifications don't count in my book.
To me it's insulting and hopeless to say that some atheists are "God-blind" with no way to choose Him. As you can see, I'm NOT a Calvinist.


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